Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A Taste of Rum

Here's a taste of Rum. My two favourite spots on the island are Kilmory, near the north end, and the summit of Hallival, near the top end. The hike up to Hallival, from sea-level, is a climb of 2,700 feet, just shy of a Munro. The last 300 feet is an exciting scramble up its steep, rocky mantle.

The view from the top of Hallival makes it all worthwhile.

My second favourite spot on Rum is Kilmory. On our first visit to Rum, in 1997, my wife and I made the five mile walk there, only to be turned away, just 500 feet from the beach. A squad of wildlife researchers were watching a deer give birth. They did not want any disturbance, so we had to turn around. We returned three years later.

The old village, burial ground, and chapel site at Kilmory, set against the backdrop of the river and the Rum Cuillins, is absolutely stunning. At the left of the next photo you can see the tombstone of the five Matheson children, who died within three days of each other from diphtheria.

Lying inside the burial ground is a cross-inscribed pillar. Well over a thousand years old, it may have once stood by the old chapel.

A not-so-picturesque sight at Kilmory is the old laundry building. From the outside it's a rusting eyesore, but on the inside you'll find something amazing; a collection of items from Rum's most famous residents.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Isles to Be - Sanda

This is the final Isles to Be installment - for now, anyway. The island is Sanda, off the southern tip of the Kintyre Peninsula. The island's previous owners had a go at offering accommodation and a pub. The current owners no longer do that, and do not encourage visitors. When it was operating, the pub claimed to be the most remote in the UK.  I think the owners of the Old Forge in Inverie might disagree with that claim.

The pub was named 'The Byron Darnton', after a ship that went aground on the island.

The Pub - now closed
Even though the pub is closed, I still want to set foot on the island. Two sites appeal: St Ninian's Chapel, and the Stevenson lighthouse. The chapel dates to at least the 14th century, and was once a sanctuary. 

St Ninian's Chapel and burial ground
A kilometre away, on the south side of the island, is the 1850 Stevenson lighthouse. It has a unique feature, its two stair-towers. These give access to the lighthouse, which sits atop a rock, 30 metres above the sea.

A reef near the ligthhouse is called Prince Edward's Rock, after Edward Bruce, the brother of Robert Bruce. Edward became King of Ireland, and died fighting at Dun Dealgan, 100 miles away. The island was associated with another Bruce in the late 1960s, when Jack Bruce, bassist for Cream, owned the island.

Sanda is difficult to get to. It lies in an exposed spot in the sea, and is a long run for cruises based on the west coast. I will probably have to arrange a private charter to get there. To celebrate landing on this elusive isle, I'll have to bring my own refreshments. Unless, that is, I can talk them into opening the pub.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Isles to Be - Texa

Another island that I've yet to see is Texa. It is a small island that sits a half mile off the south coast of Islay, just opposite the Laphroig distillery. It had a population of 8 in the 18th century, and has been uninhabited since the middle of the 19th.

Texa is an intriguing name. Especially in that I believe it's the only Scottish island with an X in its name.  The explanation is that it is only 20 miles from Ireland. The Irish for house is 'Teach', and the 'a' is Norse for an island; so the spelling is a corruption of 'Teach-a', House Island. The 'house' may refer to the 14th century church that stands above the landing place on the north side of the island.

There may have been a seminary or monastery here prior to the 14th century, as the island was a stopover on sea journeys to and from Ireland. I have no photos of my own of Texa, so I am using a couple from the Geograph website.  For more Geograph photos of Texa see this link.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Isles to Be - Bearasaigh

Another Isle to Be is The Pirate's Isle. How's that for an enticing name. Was it once the base of Blue Beard, or maybe Jean Laffite? No. Or how about Captain Hook?  No; although Hook's creator spent time writing in a spot 20 miles from the island.

The island's other name is Bearasaigh, and it lies off the mouth of Loch Rog (Lewis). Between 1610 and 1613 Neil MacLeod and forty of his followers had a stronghold on the island, from where they launched raids against the “Gentlemen Adventurers” sent to Lewis by James VI.

Bearasaigh (middle distance) seen from the Bostadh Roundhouse
Bearasaigh was a good choice for a stronghold. It is cliff-girt, with just one, easily defended, sloping rock slab that allows access to the top of the island. They eventually caught Neil by stranding family members in a boat tied to a tidal rock near the island. Neil and his band surrendered in order to save them. Neil managed to escape after that, but was recaptured and ended up swinging from an Edinburgh scaffold in 1613. In chapter 16 of his book Behold the Hebrides, Alasdair Alpin Macgregor recounts the story of Neil Macleod (which you can read at this link).

I've always wanted to get ashore on Bearasaigh to see the remains of Neil's encampment on the island (see this link). But to do so would require an expensive day-charter of a RIB on a calm day, and so I've put it off for many years. I have, however, managed to come within 10 feet of the island on a day-cruise around Loch Rog. On the south side of the island we took a close look at the rock slab that gives access to Bearasaigh. It was a miserable, cold and wet day, as you can tell from the rain-smears on the photo of the landing spot. A scramble to the top of the island on those rocks would be exciting - something I hope to do someday.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Isles to Be - Little Colonsay - and Mars?

I have been posting on islands that I have not yet been able to visit. While deciding which island to write about next, I noticed, on my blog statistics page, that a post I did on Little Colonsay last year, an island I've never been to, had a large number of hits in the past week. I had to scratch my head; why the sudden interest in Little Colonsay?

Little Colonsay
An internet search on "Little Colonsay" answered the question. It was a surprising answer: Mars. It seems the Mars Rover has come across a strange, shiny rock of some sort, possibly a meteorite.

"Little Colonsay" - photo NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL
Why the mysterious rock was named "Little Colonsay" is not mentioned in any of the news stories on the find. The rock is certainly not shaped like the island. I can only guess the name came from a scientist who likes obscure Hebridean islands. (My kind of scientist!)

Little Colonsay is one of my Isles to Be. I have seen it from afar on multiple occasions, but have never set foot on it. Here is what Hamish Haswell-Smith's has to say about the island in his book The Scottish Islands:

This is a nice little island in a stunning setting...on a calm sunny day it is easy to be enthralled until you remember that the southwest is entirely exposed to the Atlantic with no sheltering landmass between Little Colonsay and the shores of America.

Little Colonsay seen from Ulva
Prior to the clearances the population peaked at 16 in 1841. An old map show a small cluster of ruined houses, but these days there is only one intact home on the island; a Victorian mansion that has been extensively remodeled. As I said in my post last year, someday I hope to set foot on Little Colonsay. I would climb to the summit of Torr Mor to enjoy the view over the amazing constellation of historic islands that dot the sea between Ulva and Iona.

Mansion on Little Colonsay

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Isles to Be - Sulaisgeir

Another Isle to Be for me is Sulaisgeir, a small islet 10 miles west of North Rona. It is so exposed to the open sea that conditions need to be just right to get ashore. 

Adding to the difficulty of getting ashore is that there is no place to anchor. Someone has to man the ship, keeping it safely off the rocks, while someone else gets the passengers ashore on an inflatable. These photos show how close I came in 2011. 

The attractions of Sula are many; the remoteness, the large gannetry; and the ancient beehive cells, now used annually by the men of Ness when they come to harvest their allotted 2000 guga, the young gannets. Another attraction is literary, as Peter May made use of Sulaisgeir, and the guga hunt, in his book The Balckhouse.

One of the beehive cells was originally an oratory/chapel; similar to the 8th century oratory on nearby Rona - so it could be possible that Sula was a hermitage for the monastery on Rona. Sadly, the chapel's roof collapsed in 1984, and there is now no sign of the altar, reported to be there in the 1880s. Someday I hope to see Sula firsthand.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Isles to Be - Mealasta

This is the first in a series of posts on the Elusive Ones; islands that have resisted all my advances; islands I hope to set foot on someday. The first is Mealasta, off the coast of Uig (Lewis).

Over the years I've sailed past Mealasta a dozen times. Three of those times we wanted to get ashore, but on all those occasions the swell was too large to safely land.

Mealasta seen from Scarp
Traigh Mhor an Eilean - Mealasta
Mealasta has a fantastic beach of golden sand on its east side  - Traigh Mhor an Eilean (previous photo). To the north of it lie the remains of a few structures: Airighean a Chraois; a name that implies it was a summer shieling.

I am not sure if, other than the shielings, the island was ever inhabited. (Haswell-Smith, in his Scottish Islands book says it was, but that there are no records.) There are indeed references to people from Mealasta, but those mentions may be referring to the township of Mealasta, opposite the island on Lewis. That Mealasta had a population of 11 in 1766.

The most well known story about the people of Mealasta is the incident of the Pairc Murders, when the crew of a boat from Mealasta were killed for their cargo of lumber. (See the August 1, 2017 post for more on this).  In his book Waypoints: Seascapes and Stories of Scotland's West Coast, Ian Fisher includes a version of the story that says that the doomed crew was from the island, not the mainland.

You can get to within a mile of Mealasta island by driving to the end of the Uig road, where there is a small jetty. Last time I was there the azure sea was calm and the wind light; ideal for a voyage to the island. At the foot of the jetty a boat sat invitingly on a trailer.  If only it was mine...

Scarp seen from near the old Mealasta township - Mealasta island to the right
I hope to set foot on Mealasta someday (without stealing a boat). But, for now, it remains one of the Isles to Be.

Scarp (left) and Mealasta seen from Lewis